Want To Be a Successful Marketer? Join and Participate in Defense Organizations.

By Dan D. Kohane, Esq.

Today’s marketing for young lawyers discussion focuses on involvement in national defense organizations.  First, some background as to how I learned of their importance, how I became an active member in several, and the wonderful and beneficial payback on that investment of time and effort.

In past blogs, among other suggestions to young insurance defense lawyers (and others) who are interested in business development, I’ve talked (among other topics) about networking and relationships and publishing and presenting.  I want to use this space, today, to talk about bar and defense organizations and the important role they can play for you in developing relationships and networks and in giving you opportunity to publish articles and present to your peers and to others.

When I started practicing in 1980, I joined the same law firm where I had served as a clerk (by the way, counting my clerking days, I celebrate my 42nd anniversary at this firm, come July 14).  Practice was local to Buffalo.  If we had a matter, even 75 miles down the road in Rochester, we’d refer it out.  Every part of the practice was local and parochial.  The term “home towned” was common and if a lawyer from New York City dared show up on an Erie County Court, he was treated as an alien.  Likewise, if we traveled to a courthouse in the “boroughs” of NYC (where, by the way, I grew up), we were considered “farmers” from “upstate” and not particularly welcomed.  I actually received answering papers from a New York City law firm, criticizing my client for hiring a lawyer from outside of New York City.

Life, as we knew it then, is not life as we know it now.  Now, 95% of my state practice is in the courts outside of western New York with most of it being in the metro New York area.  That’s the same with my entire coverage practice group.

We live and practice in a regional, national and international community.

So, how does a lawyer grow her or his practice geographically?  As important, how does a lawyer from Des Moines, Iowa; Detroit, Michigan; Daytona, Florida; Durham, NC; or even Delta, B.C. meet lawyers and corporate and insurance representatives and develop relationships and get referrals?

One of the answers is a simple one.  Get involved in national defense organization.  Not just join.  Not just pay dues.  Not just put the organization on your C.V.  Get involved.

There are all kinds of organizations, but there are five that cater especially to defense lawyers, to attorneys who represent or are hired by insurance companies to protect their interests or the interests of their policyholders and insureds or corporate clients to protect their interests in civil litigation.  I’m proud to be a member of four of them and have law partners in the fifth.  Let me introduce them to you and then speak generally about involvement.  All of these organizations have members from every state in the union and and Canada and most have members or affiliations from Europe, South and Central America and Asia.

Each of these organizations have a focus and commitment to diversity and inclusion.

DEFENSE RESEARCH INSTITUTE (DRI, the Voice of the Defense Bar) is the general membership organization that all defense attorneys ought to join.  They provide spectacular CLE in all areas of civil practice and have committees with immeasurable opportunity for participation at many levels.  Its board is made up of lawyers elected at the annual meeting, regional directors and the leaders of the three “sister organizations.”  I believe it has around 20,000 members.

The FEDERATION OF DEFENSE & CORPORATE COUNSEL is one of the three “sister organizations.”  The FDCC, over 80 years old, has about 1,300 members, and is a peer nominated and selected group.  It has substantive law sections and administrative committees that provide wonderful options for involvement and network building, let alone great CLE.  Its membership includes defense lawyers, in-house counsel, corporate clients and insurance industry representatives involved in regional and state claims handling.  I do have a special affection for the FDCC, having served as its president back in 2006 – 2007. Its motto is “Knowledge, Justice and Fellowship.”

The INTERNATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF DEFENSE COUNSEL has been serving a distinguished membership of corporate and insurance defense attorneys and insurance executives since 1920. The IADC’s activities benefit the approximately 2,500 invitation-only, peer reviewed members and their clients, as well as the civil justice system and the legal profession.  It has a robust substantive law committee structure and has great opportunities for involvement and professional development.

The ASSOCIATION OF DEFENSE TRIAL ATTORNEYS (ADTA) has been serving the civil defense trial bar since 1941. The Association of Defense Trial Attorneys has two main objectives: to provide an opportunity for the proven successful defense trial attorneys to associate with similarly qualified trial attorneys for professional, social and business purposes, and to identify the successful defense trial attorney for those persons in search of such an attorney.  It is also a peer-reviewed organization, having one defense trial lawyer as a member in cities under a million.  It prides itself in its “We Prefer to Refer” program, focusing on intra-organization business referrals. 

The CANADIAN DEFENCE LAWYERS (CDL) is the voice and a resource for civil defense lawyers across Canada (here, I need to use the Canadian spelling of “defence”).  It provides a national perspective, quality defence-specific education and networking opportunities.  It focuses on issues uniting the defence bar with the flexibility to address local and regional jurisdictional concerns and offers a single voice to the insurance industry while advocating on critical issues and advancing the position of the defence bar. 

So, what do young (and older) defense lawyers get out of being actively involved in these groups?  Immeasurable opportunity to grow, to develop, to flourish.  For example:

Value of Defense Organizations:  I've mentioned a few above and hope that others who are monitoring this blog will jump in.

Continuing Legal Education:  You will earn all the CLE credits you need by attending programming and these groups offer diverse and interesting cutting-edge education in many different geographical locations.  Young lawyers can attend programs focusing on their practice areas, volunteer to assist in developing the following year’s agenda and before they know it, they can and will be publishing and presenting.  Each of these organizations have print or electronic publications distributed to thousands of subscribers and there is always room for members to write and publish.  What better way to be recognized as a scholar and thought-leader by those who read your work and see and hear you speak!

Learning what makes companies notice you:  Equally important, or more so, is what you will learn from those whose fingers are on the pulse of the insurance industry and defense field.  What keeps your clients up at night?  What is the cutting-edge area of practice in your field?   How do clients select law firms and lawyers to represent them?  What impresses a client when it sends out, and you respond to an RFQ or an RFP and what does not?  What statistical information is important to an insurance company (some of you never considered, for example, need to keep track of “cycle time”).  Does involvement in social media impact on business development and if so, how?  Do newsletters work and if they can, what makes them valuable (and which ones go directly into the trash)?

Networking/Relationships:  Being a member of a group is a good thing but simply paying dues and being listed in the membership roster isn’t enough.  When you attend a meeting, when you participate in a committee, when you share the workload with others to help market a program or presentation, you become part of a vital network of like-minded folks from across the country (and the world) who become friends and fellow collaborators.  While you didn’t know any lawyers from Seattle or Syracuse, from San Diego or Selma, suddenly you have developed a friend, a brother or sister who shares your practice field and willingness to help with committee or organizational responsibilities. One small example: twenty-five years ago, I worked with the FDCC to help establish its website.  Five of the lawyers and claims professionals with whom I worked on this labor-intensive project have remained terrific life-long friends and really wonderful business referral sources. I can say this, without equivocation – just from these five, I have paid for my meeting costs and missed “billable hours” by a factor of 50 or more.

When my wife and I married, 11 years ago, of the 125 or so who attended, 40 or more came from organizational friendship, with folks coming from places as diverse as South Dakota, California, Michigan, Arizona, Rhode Island, Alabama, New Jersey, Ohio, Georgia, Illinois and Tennessee, just to name a few.

Mentoring:  The best and the brightest attend and are involved in these organization.  When you attend these meetings and interact with these folks, you can easily find those willing to mentor you in so many substantive and development areas.  They will introduce you to others in your practice areas and you can learn from so many.

If you want to develop these relations and reap these benefits, you need to do more than just join and pay dues.  You need to attend meetings and get actively involved or your firm is wasting its money.

Attending one meeting and never returning won’t do it.  Diary the meetings as you would a trial.  Raise your hand.  Volunteer.  Most of all, do not over-promise so you can do WHAT you promise.  It works.

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